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The Voluntary Nature of the Nehemiah Covenant in Rabbinic Literature

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Much scholarly attention has been devoted to the central covenant text in Nehemiah, namely, chapters 8–10, in terms of its sources, literary structure, and theology. An important aspect of the discussion is the consensual spirit with which the Nehemiah covenant was undertaken, even more so than the Sinai covenant, which is referenced in the Nehemiah material (Neh. 9:13). Rabbinic sources, from the Jerusalem Talmud through the various midrashic collections, also put a marked emphasis on the spirit of voluntarism and religious initiative that characterizes the post-exilic covenant experience. Thus the rabbinic sources anticipate certain conclusions of modern scholarship, at least on the ideational level. This paper suggests that the rabbis’ attraction to the theme of voluntary acceptance of the covenant stipulations on the part of the post-exilic community stems from the view of that theme as a conceptual forerunner for the popular acceptance of rabbinic authority.

Affiliations: 1: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev p.o.b. 653, Beersheva 84105Israel


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